FIFTH WATER HOT SPRINGS
If you live in Salt Lake, you have undoubtedly heard about Fifth Water Hot Springs. You've probably already been there. It isn't a hidden gem or a well kept secret. This is one of the most popular trails we have hiked (that wasn't in a NP, etc.), but we put on brave faces and readied ourselves for the crowds. The experience was completely worth the company of strangers.
We checked alltrails.com in advance to check two important factors of this hike in the winter: if the gate is closed and what the trail conditions are. The gate had closed mid-December for the season, and the most recent post noted that they snowshoed the trail. We packed our shoes, swimsuits, plenty of water, plenty of layers, and hit the road.
Fifth Water is about an hour South of SLC. The parking is limited to the ol' pull off the road as far as you can manage. When we made it up to the closed gate we saw nothing but pavement. So much for a grand snowshoe expedition. We threw our snowshoes back in the truck and began our journey again.
We walked along the road for almost four miles before we reached the actual trailhead. The road follows Diamond Fork River and is lined with rugged red rock so we didn't mind the extra road miles. We came across a few icy spots, but nothing like what we were about to encounter on the trail itself. Yeesh. While the trail seemed that on an average day it would be perfectly pleasant, its current conditions made it a bit nightmarish. The entire thing was an ice rink, practically impassable in some places. We relied heavily on the strength of the trees that lined the trail to keep us upright and on any downhill portions we submitted to our instabilities and slid on our bums.
We saw a few groups turn around and we were passed by a few groups who were wise enough to wear traction over their shoes. Our mindset was somewhere in the middle. We never said we should turn around, but we did have some disparaging moments, usually immediately following a hard thud on the ground. We pushed on.
The color of the river began to turn a misty, milky blue and the smell of sulfur entered our nostrils. We were definitely getting close. I kept running over to the river's edge to feel the water's temperature, wondering when it was time to strip down and hop in. I discovered soon after the very obvious answer to my question.
We rounded a corner and saw a series of beautiful rock lined pools in every variant of blue imaginable. Even with the slew of backpacks and boots scattered along the riverbank, and the human bodies cooking their frozen limbs in the warm pools, this place was magic.
Ry wanted to test out each pool to find the best one but before he could make the suggestion I had fully submerged in the closest vacant pool. The water was hot, not hot tub hot, but hot. It soothed our sore and tired muscles while the sound of the water falling from the rocks above entranced us. Jasper stood in the pool staring inquisitively at the water that surrounded him while Osa monitored us from the shore. We didn't need too much time to feel that we had absorbed some of the enchantment of this place. After about half an hour we shimmied back into our hiking attire (using the old change-under-the-towel trick, as there were no good hiding places nearby) and wrapped our wet, sulfur stinking swimsuits in unused dog waste bags. Having a billion of these in our packs comes in handy so, so often.
The hike out felt much more pleasant than the one in, maybe because we were on a hot pool high. We stopped at one of the day use picnic sites to refuel on some sandwiches and marveled at what we just experienced. The air was cooling rapidly and the sun was making its exit from the sky as we passed a few groups who mentioned they got late starts and would have to turn back. I recommend getting an early start for this hike, it will take longer than you would assume and you don't want to rush yourself when you get to the hot springs. It took us about five hours to complete our day at Fifth Water Hot Springs, and what a magical day it was.